The Class Struggle Podcast – Where We Come From

I think it might be good if we all introduce our perspective on things, like where we’re coming from. We all have unique places that we are at and I think it would be good for listeners to get to know some of that!

Stephen Hurley

This is beginning to take shape. We have a name for our political voice podcast – Class Struggle thanks to Heather Swail and several co-hosts – Heather Swail, Derek Rhodenizer and Stephen Hurley. Stephen has made the suggestion that we all make our views and background known to listeners so our bias is evident. We are planning to do this on our first podcast next Thursday, December 27th at 8:00PM.

While this will be an interesting ‘live’ experiment, I think it would be a great idea to put down here some of our thoughts and ideas on where we are coming from. It takes a while to figure this out and at least for me I do better writing down some of these ideas first. If the other co-hosts want to do the same I will roll out their ideas here as part of this post.

I will start. My political beliefs are informed first by my faith. It is hard to believe this is still true because I no longer attend church on any regular basis, but I was brought up Catholic and I taught in the Catholic system for 31 years. Within that structure, I was mainly influenced by Catholic Social Teaching and the life and struggles of Archbishop Oscar Romero, a cleric and martyr from El Salvador who was canonized just a few months ago.

What was truly formative for me have been my travels to Latin America with students and teachers. Over the past twenty years, I have travelled there many times and I have learned lots about poverty, injustice and the abuse of power by the privileged.

All of this has given me a strong sense of community and a better appreciation of the importance of speaking out against hypocrisy and injustice. Working at my last school, St. Anthony here in Ottawa gave me a wonderful opportunity to put some of these beliefs into practice. It also led to lots of run-ins with my superiors which eventually led to my retirement. There was more work to do at my school, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to work for an organization that valued compliance over social justice.

Now I have been retired for two years and I have spoken out much more since that time. The issues I write about are diverse, but anything that smacks of injustice and the abuse of power catches my attention. Apart from writing, I try to do something positive by supporting Christie Lake Kids, an organization here in Ottawa that works to transform the lives of low-income children through recreation, arts and leadership programs.

I do think that teachers have a duty to speak out. We as educators play a unique role in a democratic society. We are responsible for passing on to a new generation the laws, customs and beliefs of our society. We are leaders by the very fact that we hold such an immense responsibility to the youth in our society.

This view is not shared by our large corporate-like school boards. Loyalty means to be silent and compliance is the key. I think we are selling our educators short in this corporate culture and teachers need to have the freedom to express their opinions and speak out against injustice when they see it.

That is where I am coming from and I hope in our new show we will tackle some of the big political issues that swirl around us in this society. Maybe not all educators see this as a role we should assume. That is fine, but I would love to hear people actually say this.

I will keep this blog rolling out new comments from now until our first podcast this Thursday. You can write a comment at the end of this blog or DM me and I will add your material to this post. This sometimes can actually change the nature of a blog post. I am all for that – the voice of educators is so important – let it be heard.

This being a rolling blog, I am adding comments directly to this post. Here is a comment from co-host Heather Swail.

 

Heather Swail here. My political ideas and opinions were at first informed by school and community. I too was educated in the Catholic system. A number of my high school teachers were CND active or former sisters who were very involved in the lives of the disadvantaged in Montreal; at least three of my teachers had lived in Central America and followed and spoke about liberation theology and social justice. Their few stories – they were humble about their experiences – and the videos and news items they showed us inspired me to learn more about the world and to study politics in university. I did an MA in Public Administration in social policy and knew that my vocation was to work in the public or community sectors. Since my 20’s I have participated in community projects and initiatives that have attempted to develop opportunities for those with little power. I was approached once to run as a school trustee, but was not interested in that life, especially with a young family. My style typically is more diplomatic and questioning, rather than pedantic and being on the podium (family members may have a different opinion!)

I have been formed as much as by what I heard, learned and witnessed, as by what I did not hear. Ours was not a political family, neither parent spoke about politics. But there was a strong current within the larger family of pro-status quo and business. On a few occasions, when young, I was told not to ask so many questions. Paul and I raised our children to be aware of politics and inequalities. Perhaps too much at times, they would remind us.

Now, as an educator of 12- and 13-year olds, I prefer to ask questions and see where kids go with their observations and answers. I am more of a storyteller than a lecturer, I think. I will directly instruct about contentious or difficult issues and then ask students to explore further. By exposing younger people to information about what is going on in this world – good and bad – I am giving them the chance to see beyond what is apparent and certain. Children this age are very passionate about equality and justice – they just need help finding the stories.

Adding to our post is Stephen Hurley. We now have three of our hosts writing about brings them to this podcast.

I’m Stephen Hurley and, after retiring from 30 years of teaching with Ontario’s Dufferin Peel District School Board, I continue to be passionate about the conversations in education.

When it comes to teacher voice, I have some very specific ideas, but I look forward to this voicEd Radio series in order that these ideas might be challenged, deepened and, quite possibly, modified.

I have to admit that I have always resisted any monolithic characterization of voices in education. I bristle when politicians, union leaders and others make blanket statements like, “Teachers believe this” or “our members will actively fight for this.” I understand the efficiency and even the effectiveness of making statements like this but, for me, they undermine the fact that everyone who walks this planet has a unique perspective that is formed over the course of a lifetime by myriad events, experiences and encounters.

I think that, if we’re going to take the idea of teacher voice seriously, especially in the public square, we have to be prepared to make space for the individual stories that give way to a sense of subtlety and nuance. Our current conversations in education, especially at the political level, are not informed by these subtleties and shades of gray.

I look forward to entering into the Class Struggle conversations on which we are about to embark. I look forward to the honesty, the discomfort and even the disagreement that comes from opening up a space like this.

Advertisements

Where is the Political Voice of Educators?

Educators no longer have a political voice and that is a problem.

I have written about this before, but now I propose to do something about that. More on this later.

I am not entirely sure why this is the case. Part of the problem is that most of us work for overly bureaucratic school boards where having a political opinion is anathema. Part of the problem, I think, is that educators have gotten so caught up in their professional discourse that they have forgotten that they still play a public role as opinion leaders in a democratic society.

There is no question that the popular leadership in our society is now played exclusively by the media. This week in Ontario the Globe and Mail is leading the opposition against a corrupt newly elected Progressive Conservative government who sees no problem with selecting underqualified cronies to the top position in the Ontario Provincial Police – see their latest editorial here – Globe editorial: To end the OPP scandal, Doug Ford has to make a U-turn.

The same government seems bent on dismantling new initiatives focusing on indigenous education, after-school programming and in-school tutoring. The earlier assault on the 2015 sex-ed curriculum still remains in effect even after consultations in Ontario overwhelmingly rejected the substitution of the outdated 1998 program. Now it seems the government is considering walking away from the consultation saying that it was ‘flooded by unnamed groups‘.

In the United States, media outlets like CNN and the Washington Post daily speak truth to power as they cover the chaos in the American political system. Today they are tweeting and broadcasting about the American pullout in Syria that has led to the incredible public falling out between Donald Trump and his Defense Secretary James Mattis. If you haven’t seen the astounding interview Wolf Blitzer did with Stephen Miller you really need to witness this.

I listen to lots of podcasts and read my fair share of education blog posts and one thing I can conclude is that teachers are not publically commenting on these stories – with the notable exception of Andrew Campbell. At this point, Andrew is holding the political mantle for all Ontario teachers. There needs to be more public discourse where educators express their opinion on the political issues of the day. There is a notable political vacuum out there.

So, here is my proposal. A weekly political column or podcast by an educator (me) on one political issue that needs more discussion. Maybe I will be alone on my show, maybe it will only air on Sound Cloud, but it needs to be done. I am not saying that I have anything really new to offer to the political debates swirling around us, but educators need to at least express an opinion.

Maybe people will join me, maybe not. No matter, teachers need to exercise their political voice and this needs to be done in a public forum.

The Podcast Broadcast – This week, it’s all about music!

I took a little break from podcasting and blogging in November. There are lots of things going on here that kept me away from my computer and it didn’t hurt to be away in Italy with our son Liam for two weeks.

Now I have a great reason for getting back to writing. I am preparing for another episode of the Podcast Broadcast with Stephen Hurley that will be on VoicEd Radio later this week. I have spent a few days combing through tracks and I think I am ready to go. This week, I am trying the thematic approach and we are focusing on podcasts about music.

artwork for The Gav Session, a new podcast coming out of Belleville all about teaching music at the elementary level.

So, I tried something different. I went into VoicEd Radio and did a search on music. I also sent a note to Stephen and asked him for podcasts on music. Together, we came up with some really interesting material. This shows that the ever-evolving database of VoicEd Radio podcasts is a great resource for educators no matter what you are teaching. Making the podcasts more searchable is something we will continue to work on.

So this week we will be looking at work by Gavin Foster, a music teacher from Belleville, the  Bedley Brothers, Shane Lawrence, and Mark Carbone. They are all talking about music and education. Pretty ambitious for one podcast, but I have been away for around a month now, so I need to do some catching up.

When I moved to elementary, I found that one of the most important subjects was music. Generally, there was only one music teacher in the school and they had the responsibility to teach everyone in the building about music. In many cases, by grade 7 and 8, this might be the last formal music instruction students would get – ever.

When you think about this, it is a pretty immense responsibility.

We talk and write lots about math these days, especially in Ontario where math scores on EQAO have become a regional obsession. It would be great to step away for a while from the imbalance this is creating and look instead at how we are developing an appreciation for art in our schools.

I have to throw in at least one reference to our Roman holiday here. What endures now in the Eternal City is not so much the math that was done by ancient scholars but the beautiful artwork that still graces the city. Art is universal and it speaks to all of us at some level.

art endures

Back to podcasts – Gavin Foster is new to podcasting and he is doing some really interesting reflections on his current teaching practices. This is important work – I think we need more teachers broadcasting about what is working and sometimes not working in their classrooms.

He starts out in a podcast entitled ‘Tech Fail’ by talking about a new program called BandLab and relates how he tries to set up one of his classes almost as they walk into the room. I can certainly relate to that, this is easily something I would do!

Although this first attempt doesn’t work too well, he persists and by the next podcast, Bandlab has become one of his teaching tools.

You can hear him here as he discusses how to develop a great reflection on the iconic Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot.

I like how Gavin flips his classroom, it must be really great to be a student in his class. He is willing to try new types of technology and he readily shares what he is learning with others.

The next podcast is from the Bedley Brothers. Apart from the fact that they have the best intro for an education podcast, the brothers always have interesting guests and topics on their eclectic broadcast. In this one, the main topic is all about using music to engage students. The interviewee here is not a music teacher but uses music to keep his social studies students engaged.

Tal Thompson uses songs like Hall of Fame, by Script a song about confidence and being the best you can be. A pretty important message for kids to hear every day. He also uses current pop songs and changes the lyrics to fit the content. For example, what is the greatest break-up song ever?  Taylor Swift, ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ – sings America to King George. There must be a Canadian equivalent!

I never did this as a history teacher but as a principal, we always played a song over the PA at the end of the day on Fridays. This was a pretty cool thing to do – the kids loved it!

Music engages.

Shane Lawrence always does great interviews about the teaching life. This one is called  – ‘Music for Rebels’ with Emily Langerholc. This is a great conversation and Emily is really entertaining. She has so much to say about teaching music, I could really listen to more from her. She has a great attitude and a terrific sense of humour!

This is from her blog masthead

Welcome! My name is Emily and I teach music. If you’re looking for teachable moments in popular music, you’re in the right place. Commentary and free teaching goodies are also included.

Content is available on the blog, which you can read here!

Teachable pop songs are listed & organized here!

I teach traditional ensemble music classes (band & chorus), but my after-school class materials are sponsored by Little Kids Rock.

To find out more about people all around the country (and world!) who are involved in Popular Music Education, I urge you to look into and join the Association of Popular Music Education, aka APME.

If you are so moved, you can support my writing/conference travel/etc. by buying me a coffee!

 

 

This blog is an amazing resource. If you are reading this and you know a music teacher please share this with them. I did already.

The podcast ranges all over the landscape of teaching music in elementary school. One part I found particularly interesting has to do with using pop music in the classroom. Her question is interesting – why would you not use the tool of popular music in the classroom. If you are teaching time signatures for example, why not challenge your students by betting if any song on the radio is in 4:4 time (she does this).

Finally, Stephen Hurley put me on to this podcast. It is by Mark Carbone and it can be found here on his blog. Soon it will be on VoicEd Radio and I will be certain to tag it under ‘music’.

This one really blew me away. It is an interview with former CBC broadcaster and Peabody Award Winner Jowi Taylor. We used to listen to Jowi Taylor on Saturday nights on CBC. He hosted a ground-breaking show called Global Village that was all about international music. It was a weekly tour around the world that actually encouraged travellers to record their own features that were later broadcast on the show. The show was cancelled in 2007 and there has been nothing like it since.

The interview with Mark is all about a current project by Jowi called ‘Six String Nation‘. It started while he was still hosting Global Village and it continues to this day.

The idea has a real nation-building quality to it. A guitar called Voyageur was constructed from 64 pieces of bone, metal, wood, stone and horn. It was constructed to act as a symbol of national unity and its contains pieces come from across the country.

Jowi describes the project here

This is pretty exciting stuff and it is really wonderful to hear the entirety of Mark’s interview. I took four clips from the 26-minute broadcast and I don’t know if I will get them all in, it is that good of a segment.

I will get in a short clip at the end of Mark’s podcast. Near the conclusion, Jowi’s challenges the audience (you) to help him come up with focused, coherent workshops for students in different grades. This is a great challenge and I hope this is something that VoicEd Radio will be involved in starting in 2019.

Here is the final clip

This would be a great way to truly integrate music, story-telling, art and country into a workshop – what a great opportunity!

This is lots for one podcast. We will see how far we get. Writing all this down is a sort of pledge to get it all done. I hope you listen to us – let’s see (or hear) how it goes!